Baker named `outstanding’ town manager | AspenTimes.com
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Baker named `outstanding’ town manager

Basalt Town Manager Tom Baker has received a top honor in Colorado as the “outstanding public administrator of 2003.”

The Colorado Chapter of Pi Alpha Alpha and the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado, Denver, selected Baker as the winner of the Leo C. Riethmayer award. It is given annually in Riethmayer’s memory as the founding father of public affairs studies at CU.

While Baker was honored to receive the recognition, he was characteristically humble about his role in earning it.

“To be singled out for recognition is almost uncomfortable,” he said. “The whole community is really being acknowledged.”

Baker was a finalist for the award last year, when his nomination was coordinated by Basalt Town Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt. The selection committee contacted Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens this year and urged him to re-nominate Baker because he was such a strong candidate.

Baker has drawn accolades for helping create a “horizontal, informal” type of governing in Basalt that downplays the role of the elected officials as decision-makers and promotes citizen involvement.

Town officials estimated 10 percent of Basalt residents, roughly 220 people, are working directly with the town government on one of many citizen committees. There are currently 14 citizen committees working on issues ranging from the water rate structure to how property along the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers should be developed.

The idea of drawing so much community participation is to empower individuals in the decision-making process, Baker said. It is meant to avoid the “us versus them” trap politics often falls into when a handful of elected officials make decisions in a vacuum.

Baker was hired as the town manager in late 1998, and from the start he nurtured the idea of the town building “social capital.” Instead of just reviewing land-use applications, the Town Council and town staff work to strengthen civic organizations and causes, both permanent and ad hoc.

Baker received his Bachelor of Science degree in City and Regional Planning from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and his Master of Public Administration from CU Denver.

He has been a resident of the Roaring Fork Valley since 1983 and has held a variety of local government positions, including Aspen Assistant City Manager, Executive Director of the Aspen/ Pitkin County Housing Authority, and Assistant Planning Director for Aspen and Pitkin County. He received the Leadership Aspen Alumni Award in 2001 and serves on The Aspen Institute’s Community Forum Board. He is an accomplished facilitator and serves as an advisor to the Institute of Social Ecology and Public Policy at Monterey, Calif.

The official presentation and celebration of the Riethmayer Award will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 12, in Basalt. This event usually happens on the Front Range, but this year the Pi Alpha Alpha Colorado chapter board members will come to Basalt to honor Baker in his hometown.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]


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